The four elements of antiquity — earth, water, air, and fire — dominated natural philosophy for two thousand years. The premise that everything was formed from these four elements was developed by the Greek philosopher Empepedocles of Sicily, and continued to be believed until the rise of modern science. Even today, earth, water, air, and fire are not bad symbols for the four states of matter, solid, liquid, gas, and plasma. Science has discovered new ideas, but in the field of Mysticism these elements are still important today, to illustrate the oneness of all. The ancient symbol is found after each element below. Some mystics insist that these four elements be placed on the temple and home sanctum alter. Some even go so far as to have earth, water and air from Egypt, to commemorate the origin of the Mystery Schools that later migrated to many parts of the world. I will briefly discuss each element:
Earth represents the solid state of matter. It manifests stability, permanence and rigidity. In our body, the parts such as bones, teeth, cells and tissue are manifestations of the earth. Earth is considered a stable substance. Some mystics place a small vial or bottle of earth on their alter as a symbolic item. On transition the mystic usually prefers cremation, as fire transforms the body into ash to be returned to the earth from which it came; just as the soul is returned to the Cosmic, our eternal home. If spiritually necessary, the soul will return in a new body for another cycle of life on earth (reincarnation). Of course, we realize that earth as mentioned above, is metaphysical. By scientific chemical and atomic analysis, earth is made up of almost one hundred atomic elements; mystically, the classification of earth is an “element” of Life.
Water characterizes change and represents the liquid state. Water is necessary for the survival of all things. A large part of the human body is made up of water. Our blood, lymph, and other fluids move between our cells and through our vessels, bringing energy, carrying away wastes, regulates temperature, bringing disease fighters, and carrying hormonal information from one area to another. Water is a substance without stability. Mystics have studied the electromagnetic and subtle energy fields of water for many years. Some mystics have a vial, or container of water on their sanctum alters.
Air is the gaseous form of matter which is mobile and dynamic. Within the body, air (oxygen) is the basis for all energy transfer reactions. It is a key element required for fire to burn. Air is existence without form. The wind is the motion of air. The air of the planet has been generated by biological means, largely a process of photosynthesis, where planets take in carbon dioxide and water, oxygen as a by-product. Some mystics have a bottle of air from Egypt and others just consider that the air in the room is sufficient.
Fire is the power to transform solids into liquids, to gas, and back again. In other words, it posses power to transform the state of any substance. Within our bodies, the fire or energy binds the atoms together. It also converts food to fat (stored energy) and muscle. Fire transforms food into energy. It creates the impulses of nervous reactions, our feeling, and even our thought processes. Fire is considered a form without substance. Mystics always have symbolic fire on their sanctum alter, in the form of candles or in some cases, an urn of fire representing the alchemical fire of transformation.
Either is the space in which everything happens. It is the field that is simultaneously the source of all matter and the space in which it exists. Either is only the distances which separate matter. The chief characteristic of either is sound. Here sound represents the entire spectrum of vibration.